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Best Live Show of 2016 – One Music Journalist’s Pick

by Bryan Holland

It’s funny how life goes in circles. On December 29th of 2016 I attended the O.A.R. show at The Paramount in Huntington, NY, the first of a back to back for them at the same venue.  As I write this, I sit on a laptop in Orlando, Florida, on family vacation, the exact city where almost to the day, 14 years ago, I first heard of and listened to O.A.R. , which stands for “Of A Revolution”.  It was thanks to a college swimming and diving team from Chicago who was staying at the same hotel as my family and I was.  It was actually New Years Eve and I went roaming the hotel in search of some fun when I ran into this wild group. After a few underage New Years beers, I asked who the band was we were listening to.  Fun music with catchy vocals and saxophone on most tracks, which you don’t always hear.  That night I also learned of the music festival, Bonnaroo, in Tennessee, where the next summer I would get to see this rock and jam outfit from Rockville, Maryland for the first time. And here I am 14 years later writing a review on the same band. Circles.

O.A.R. knows how to put on a show.  Their set dynamics are impeccable if not formulaic but what works, works for a reason.  Hits, new songs, covers and miscellaneous tracks blended in to form two and half straight hours of unabashed rock and roll.  They are on tour for their newest, career-spanning, compilation album titled “XX” which is a monument to the 20 years they’ve been together, with the same lineup!  A testament to the staying power and constant creativity of their sound.  Friends and bandmates since middle school, it goes to show that when you vibe with people, you should probably keep them around!

They started their set with “Wonderful Day” as if labelling what was now going to be just that.  All stresses from the workday were left at the door for this upbeat, poppy track from their 2004 album “34th & 8th”. They followed it up with a dub inspired track, a favorite of mine due to the catchy bass line throughout, named “Dareh Meyod”, which was released in 2012.  This track ended up sliding into a cover of “Pawn Shop” by Sublime and really lifted the crowd as they still poured in from the concourse, fresh drinks in hand.

For their third song, they brought it back to beginning with a quintessential hit off their first major release titled “Night Shift”.  Now for those from the Napster era, this song is probably hiding on your computer somewhere, mis-titled “3 AM” due to instantly recognizable first lines “It’s 3AM and I want to go to bed, I got a lady running through my head”.  All the old school fans rejoiced and by next song, the new school was too.  Possibly their biggest radio hit, 2008’s “Shattered” was their 4th song and was a giant sing along, with everyone in the crowd singing the words as a reflection of the heartbreak it speaks of.  Everybody connecting the song with memories of different people in their minds but with the same lyrics making that connection. “How many times can I break till I shatter?” Lyrics of adversity and inner strength from sadness.  “I always turn the car around” could mean he wants to go back to object of his heartbreak but can also mean he’s picking himself back up, righting the ship if you will.  This song shows the lyrical poignance lead singer Marc Roberge is capable of, backed by a solid rhythm and melody on all instruments.

The show was in full swing now, with song after song receiving fanfare galore.  I hadn’t realized it until then, how much a span of 20 years really can mean to a band and their fans. I’m finally reaching that age where I see many bands from my younger years that either break up, change direction entirely or become a cover band of themselves, essentially.  In 20 minutes, O.A.R. had spanned two decades and people of varying ages were all singing together, comforted by the fact that this particular band had not fallen victim of those traps.

The rest of the two and a half hour set was filled with many of their recognizable hits.  I didn’t realize how many songs of theirs I really knew, and many of the words to throughout.  From fan favorites “Hey Girl” to “Black Rock” the band was flawless in transition from their uppers and downers, happy songs and heart string yankers.  “Love and Memories” may be one of the most popular judging from crowd reaction, as it wasn’t necessary for any vocals during the chorus other then the fans screaming out the songs lyrics, which Marc obliged and encouraged on many of the songs.

“City on Down”, “Delicate Few” and “Peace” began to take it down a level before their big crescendo ending. After an excellent rendition of Led Zeppelins “ Fool in the Rain” utilizing the guitar shredding skills of opening act “Taylor Carson” guitarist Mark Williams.  For their opening act, Taylor and Mark played about 6 songs of smooth acoustic and electric guitars, with strong vocal presence and brought Marc onto stage with them for their closer as well.

My sister who now lives in New Jersey accompanied me to this show and the whole time we were hoping for a few particular songs.  Suitable to the situation, their first encore was “Home”, a sweet and melodious acoustic song about the feeling of being home, surrounded by those you love.  We sang all the words knowing it’s moments like these that really count in life.  Family, friends and loved ones can save you from the impurities of the world at times.  “Well I’ve been away but now I’m back today, and there ain’t a place I’d rather go”.

They closed the night out with the song that put them on the map.  The first one I heard all those years ago in that college dorm room style party at a hotel in Orlando.  “That Was A Crazy Game of Poker” is a storyteller song about a night of shenanigans and poker.  They mixed in “Let It Be” by the Beatles and the openers, Taylor and Mike, came out to jam as well.  At the end, they actually use their bands name in crowd participation, when every screams “I say Of, You say A, I say Revolution, and you say JAH!” Of a revolution, indeed.  The revolution of bands spawned after the grunge rock era of the 90s that were blessed with the ability in this transient time to stay relevant and grow together as a cohesive unit.  Enough debaucherous games of poker on tour buses to write songs for a lifetime.  We all find our way home.

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